What Is Adolescent Egocentrism, And How Can I Deal With It As A Parent?
Updated January 30, 2020
As your child's brain matures, they tend to go through a shift in a perspective called adolescent egocentrism. What is that? It's a particular way of seeing themselves and others that can make their lives and yours more challenging. Understanding how adolescent egocentrism works and how to respond to it can do your job as a parent is much more doable.
What Is Adolescent Egocentrism?
Adolescent egocentrism describes the state common to most teenagers in which they seem to believe the world revolves around them. For some teenagers, this belief system leads to inflated confidence. They're perpetually convinced their peers are jealous, conniving, and plotting to dislodge their greatness. For others, adolescent egocentrism manifests as negative beliefs about themselves. They're alone in the world, uniquely different and uniquely small.
The term adolescent egocentrism was developed by a psychologist named Dr. David Elkind. Dr. Elkind studied adolescents ranging from 11-18 years old, focusing on how they perceived the world compared to their adult counterparts. Dr. Elkind discovered that teenagers were largely unable to differentiate between their own perceptions and the perceptions of others. Teenagers consistently believe their view is the only possible view, and all other ideas are false or entirely nonexistent.
Adolescent Egocentrism and Parenting
Adolescent egocentrism is one of the most difficult stages to parent. This is the stage of development that is often characterized by incessant arguing, including demanding and entitled behavior, and frequent emotional outbursts seemingly motivated by nothing. Many parents feel as though their children have transformed into entirely different creatures, citing a rise in aggression, argumentativeness, and stubbornness as the most common behavior changes.
Many parents of teenagers feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and alone. If you feel this way, take comfort: you certainly aren't alone! Most parents feel some amount of loss and exhaustion during this stage. Although it may seem as though the days will never end, and your relationship with your teenager will forever be tenuous, this development stage is actually an important one in a child's growth, and will help them progress to more advanced stages of functioning (though some adults will struggle to leave behind the confines of egocentrism).
You might feel as though your child is engaging in behavior far too risky or extreme, and these concerns are valid. Many psychologists agree that one of the problems inherent in adolescent egocentrism is the presence of decreased accuracy in assessing risk and danger. For this reason, many teenagers behave as though they are invincible, whether this is through reckless driving, irresponsible sexual behavior, or drug use. During this time, friendships with other parents in a similar situation are paramount to maintaining sanity and peace. \
Effects of Adolescent Egocentrism
Adolescent egocentrism has also been titled "the imaginary audience," or "the personal fable." These names are given to illustrate the notion that teenagers during this stage of development believe themselves to be the focus of everyone's attention. For this reason, some girls might struggle to get out socially, as they believe their peers are closely monitoring and judging their every move. Some boys might act out in loud, aggressive, and explosive displays, believing they have been charged with the sole duty of maintaining the embodiment of masculinity.
The so-called "imaginary audience" typically comprises the entire world, but almost certainly is made up of a teenager's peers. This often leads to teenagers striving to impress one another, sometimes through "daring" feats or even through falsehoods designed to make them appear a certain way. The imaginary audience of teenagers can create a wide range of behaviors and social constructs, and is largely responsible for many of the personality traits and desires that teenagers express.
Similarly, the "personal fable" describes the unrealistic manner in which teenagers view themselves and the world around them. Teenagers are unable to recognize their small role in the grand scheme of the world and all of its inhabitants, and can fail to understand what that means for things such as success and failure. Consequently, every small setback can seem like the end of the world to a teenager, and can result in a massive blowup or a complete loss of self-confidence.
How Can Parents Deal with Adolescent Egocentrism?
Dealing with teenagers going through this stage can be difficult and taxing to even the most well-rounded, patient parent, so you must enlist some help, while remaining open, considerate, and hopeful for your future relationship. Help could include:
1) Connecting with your kids. Connecting with your children might be difficult during this time, but take any opportunity you can to find ways to bond. If your son loves modern dance, consider taking him to a performance. If your daughter is truly amazed by the deep ocean, visit a local museum or aquarium together. Finding any small way to connect with your kids can help you when egocentrism rears its head.
2) Think of your own childhood. You might not have all of the same stressors your children have, but there are sure to be some areas in your past that relate to what your children are going through. Remembering your own difficult journey can help you develop empathy toward your children.
3) Remember: this too shall pass. The period of time in which your child is enmeshed in this stage of development may seem to stretch on and on, but remember that this period will pass, like every other developmental period before it, and your child will emerge much stronger and healthier-provided that you both handle the effects of the stage well.
4) Introduce new ideas. Children are best helped by being exposed to plenty of ideas and worldviews, so continue exposing your children to new types of music, new cultural ideas, and new experiences. Although these steps will not immediately eradicate the presence of egocentrism, it will help teenagers realize they are not alone in the world, and that there are other people and cultures out there.
5) Offer support. In the end, children require the unconditional love and support of their parents. Although you might not agree with everything your teenager says or does, they do need you to consistently demonstrate that your love and acceptance are not conditional.
Connecting with your parents and discovering how they helped (or hindered) your development during this stage can be helpful. Digging into your own experiences can not only help you learn more about your child and what they might be going through from a parent's perspective, but can also lend insight into how you were treated as a teenager, and how that treatment has shaped you into adulthood.
Friends going through the same thing can also be useful. When you feel your anger boiling, or your frustration rising, instead of allowing that tension to explode, take it to a partner or friend. That friend might end up commiserating, and the two of you can feel just a little bit less alone.
Finally, a therapist can help, whether that means group therapy with your child, or personal therapy for yourself and/or your child if they're willing.
BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that connects you to a professional from the comfort and privacy of your own home. Where conventional therapy might require strict time frames and insurance, BetterHelp therapists have flexible schedules. No need to worry about sitting in traffic or taking time out of your day to drive to an appointment. Below, some parents describe their experience with BetterHelp counselors.
"Tammi has made such a difference in my life. Had I not had her help I'm pretty sure I would've lost all contact with my 19 year old daughter who chose to live with her father. She understands teenagers and moms of teenagers! So kind, wise, experienced, compassionate, and level headed, I can't say enough good about her!!"
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Parenting teenagers can be difficult. Between the hormonal changes, cognitive changes, and physical changes, parenting teenagers can be a series of ups and downs. Fortunately, with diligence, compassion, love, and help from a counselor, you can be well on your way to achieving healthy, strong connections in the midst of this trying stage. Take the first step today.